The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on Friday announced changes to NIH requirements regarding proposed human fetal tissue research (HFT), reversing several restrictions put in place during the Trump administration.
HFT research has historically led to important breakthroughs in medical science, such as the development of the polio vaccine. According to the American Medical Association, it has also been used to study the “mechanism of viral infection and to diagnose viral infections and inherited diseases, as well as to develop transplant therapies for a variety of conditions.”
In June 2019, HHS announced a complete ban on NIH funding of intramural research that required “new acquisition of human fetal tissue from elective abortions.” A month later, it further reviewed considerations for use of HFT in extramural applications for grants, cooperative agreements, and research and development contracts. Notably, the agency required external grants and research proposals to be reviewed by a Human Fetal Tissue Research Ethics Advisory Board.
Friday’s notice clarifies that NIH will no longer convene the Board—eliminating it altogether—but will continue to require that (1) researchers obtain informed consent from donors; (2) do not pay for tissue; and (3) oblige with any state/local laws governing such research.
The move comes after over 100 scientific, medical, and academic organizations wrote a letter to then President-Elect Joe Biden encouraging him to “immediately revoke” the 2019 HHS policy, citing a “chilling effect on the broader scientific community.”